ATLANTA – I’ve told the story before, but I haven’t really got into the “why” behind it.
Growing up not far from Digmi headquarters, I was a part of a very small family. Myself, my mom and my dad. Unless you’re counting the cat, too, that was it.
It certainly isn’t a point of pride, but I lived at home into my early 30’s. We were a family that had to earn everything we got, and even though I suppose we could be considered “middle class,” money wasn’t always in abundance.
So, when I told my parents that, nine years removed from the only NFL game I’d ever covered, I’d accepted a gig to start covering the New York Jets on game days, the reaction was mixed. Between that and having just bought Janet Jackson concert tickets – Miss Jackson if you’re nasty – and it’s safe to say that allocation of resources was not considered to be a wise one.
My father was not happy. My mother was not thrilled either, but more understanding. She was always my biggest fan, my biggest supporter.
It was sometime in late August of 2015, and we had a lengthy conversation about it on the way home from me covering a Somerset Patriots game. My career was in a difficult place at the time, and there was always a lot of pressure on me to do better, to do more.
We talked a lot about how much the Jets opportunity meant to me, but specifically the possibility of getting to do the Super Bowl one day. At that point, I had three Stanley Cup Finals on my resume and two World Series, and given that pressure I’d mentioned earlier, I said that if I could just get that Super Bowl under my belt that I could be happy with moving on to something else.
I never did go to that Janet Jackson concert.
I DID GET TO WORK A SUPER BOWL THOUGH
Funny enough, and I don’t think this is anything I’ve ever revealed publicly before, but I actually got denied a credential for Super Bowl 50. Too much, too soon. I get it.
For the 2016 season, I was switched to covering the New York Giants on game days, and made it a point to make a few road trips so as to get some more exposure and hopefully make our case to head to Houston for Super Bowl 51 a little stronger.
I got my first Super Bowl. It remains one of my two favorite things I’ve ever covered, along with Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.
In 2017, I was back on the Jets, and we really stepped up going on the road that year, hopeful for an opportunity to head up to Minnesota for Super Bowl 52.
I got my second Super Bowl.
This year? For the first time, I covered every Jets home game – preseason included — in a single season, in addition to road trips to Chicago, Detroit, Foxboro, Nashville, D.C., Philly and the “road” preseason game against the Giants.
And now, here I am, still at my third Super Bowl, waiting to fly home after another incredible week.
What’s the experience like? It’s a delicate balance of running around between press conferences, player availabilities and then simply trying to find things to do on the Friday and Saturday leading up to the game.
This year, I flew in on Wednesday afternoon, quickly checked in to a $300/night, NFL-arranged hotel and ran over to the Georgia World Congress Center, which doubled as this year’s Media Center and “Radio Row,” which is where you see all of the big live TV shows set up as well as where seemingly countless radio shows are there interviewing all sorts of legends and current NFL players.
After picking up my “week of game” credential there, I quickly headed over to the New England team hotel for their media availability, where I spoke to Chris Hogan and Sony Michel for stories you (hopefully) read during the week in The Trentonian.
The following day, I worked the Rams media availability session in their hotel, and spoke to Sean Mannion for a story we ran on Friday and former Rutgers standout Sebastian Joseph-Day and Ndamukong Suh for a piece on Joseph-Day we used as our big Super Bowl Sunday piece.
I also worked hockey games on Wednesday and Thursday about a half-hour away in Duluth, Georgia to catch up with former Princeton goalie Sean Bonar, who is now with the ECHL’s Atlanta Gladiators.
Super Bowl week is a great opportunity to stay out late and go to parties – and trust me, I was invited to more than a few – but I’m there to work, and was happy to travel a bit to do so, even if it wasn’t for my football stuff.
Friday was supposed to be a fairly light day, but turned into one of my more productive ones. I headed back to the Media Center to pick up my “Game Day” credential, which is different than the one that gets you in various places during the week and is only good for entry to the stadium on Sunday. But, I also spent some time on Radio Row, and ended up landing a chat with Tiki Barber for a story on how the running backs were sharing carries that went with the conversation I’d had with Michel earlier in the week.
Saturday? In Houston, I’d tried to work NFL Honors, the league’s annual awards show, but got shot down. Last year in Minnesota, I gave up on trying to go and instead worked the Minnesota Timberwolves game that night to get a feature on Karl-Anthony Towns done.
This year, however, I got in. I ended up speaking with Patrick Mahomes, who was just named the NFL MVP, as part of a print piece we ran on Monday since deadlines don’t allow getting the game in the paper, as well as Carson Palmer for some notes for that story.
Truthfully, the experience of adding another of the NFL’s “jewel” events to my resume meant a lot. I’ve never wanted to live a life or have a career where I had to wonder “what if” or what it’s like to get to do something. I’d always wondered what it was like to get to work the Honors show.
Now I know.
What’s the big day like? All week I hear from the players how it’s just another football game, and that was the approach I tried to take heading into Sunday, especially having been there before. But, you wake up that morning and…you’re just giddy. This is one of those things you work all year for, and for the day to finally hit, there’s such a sense of accomplishment to get to do another “big game.”
I took the earliest scheduled media shuttle from the hotel to the stadium, made the lengthy trek through security into the stadium, got to my seat in the main press box as soon as I could and just wanted to soak it all in as much as I could.
I thought about everything I’d done in my career that helped get me to this point, and more specifically the people who believed in me to help get me here.
I wanted to call my mom. But I can’t anymore.
She passed away unexpectedly on September 22, 2015. While she got to see me get back to the NFL, she never did get to see me work a Super Bowl.
She’s been with me at each one, though.
After the national anthem of any game I work, no matter how big or small, you’ll see me put three fingers to my chest in the shape of an “M” for “Mom” and raise them up to the sky in honor of her. We have a quick chat before every game, and it’s been a system that’s worked to help get me through the last three and a half years of my career.
By MIKE ASHMORE Special World Series Coverage exclusively for TIP YOUR CAP BOSTON – Started from the bottom, now…well, you know the rest.
The “Live-Dream-Be” mantra of Digmi would seem to apply to my own incredible journey of lucking into a job covering the Somerset Patriots back when I was 20 years old starting in 2003, and turning that into a career where I’ve been fortunate enough to cover some of the biggest events in sports, including the last six World Series. LIVE? Oh, I have. I’ve lived through some incredible moments, including those experienced over the last few days at Fenway Park, which was actually the site of the first World Series I got to work back in 2013. Having a few of these under my belt now, I think I was able to really appreciate getting to come back to what may very well be the best stadium in baseball for the biggest games of the season. What’s it like getting to do it? Even from the moment you pick up your credential, there’s an incredible, surreal feeling…maybe it’s from spending the year covering the game on the smaller stage of independent baseball, or maybe it’s still not believing something like this could happen to you after all these years, but there’s still a feeling of relief when that credential is actually there. That this isn’t a dream. That it’s real. You’re really getting to do this. Walking through the concourse and then getting your first look at the field – and yes, I’ve been there before, but there’s such a “larger than life” feel to Fenway – and it all starts to settle in. After that, though…it largely becomes a job. There’s so much happening around you at such a big event like that, but it’s all mostly just noise. About two rows behind where some of us lesser-known media folk were sitting in the auxiliary press box in right field, SportsCenter set up their set for the night. Anybody who’s anybody in baseball is seemingly just trying to blend in – hey, there’s Tony Clark just strolling through the concourse…well, there’s Rob Manfred just hanging out before the Roberto Clemente Award press conference in the interview room – and you’re really trying to do the same, even though you’re more “nobody” than “somebody.” But you’re there. DREAM? I genuinely never did dream this big. I don’t think I really knew what I was getting into when I took this on 16 years ago. 2,312 games later, and I’m still not sure I can ever really wrap my head around everything I’ve been able to accomplish. Friends would joke around with me earlier in my career and say one day I’d get to do a World Series, one day I’d get to do a Super Bowl, one day I’d get to do a Stanley Cup Final…and I’d laugh them off. Not to be humble, but because I genuinely never thought I’d get to be a part of anything that big. But there I was the past two days, shoes in the dirt at Fenway Park at a historic and somehow first World Series meeting between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. With all the storylines heading into the week, there was no shortage of things to write about; Babe Ruth being on the last Boston team to face the predecessor to the Dodgers back in 1916, LA manager Dave Roberts authoring one of the greatest moments in Red Sox postseason history with his dramatic stolen base back in 2004, and all the rest. BE? Be in the moment. Sure, that history is great. Truly, it is. It’s impossible to look anywhere in Fenway Park – and I made sure I took the time to explore as much as I could, from the concourse to a pre-game walk out to the Green Monster – and not be overwhelmed by over a century of baseball having been played there. But I wanted to be in the now. Even from my spot deep behind Pesky’s Pole, I was glued to the Game 1 showdown between Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw. Of all the postseason pitching matchups at Fenway Park over the years, that would have to rank up there as one of the most anticipated. Every pitch, every swing, every…everything. I worked hard to be in a position where I could be there myself to see it all, and I wanted to soak it all in. Live. Dream. Be. Don’t be afraid to do any of it. You never know where you might find yourself because you chose to live your dream and be yourself.
I remember that spring like it was yesterday. It was my third spring training in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. I was living my dream as professional baseball player, working my way up the minor league ladder. I just came off what turned out to be a break out year in my career; my first All-Star selection and championship while playing for the Lynchburg HillCats of the Carolina League (Class High A). I had just held my own in a league full of prospects and slowly started making a name for myself in the organization. So I headed down to Bradenton, Florida feeling good about the upcoming 2003 season and the opportunity to play at the Double-A level. As I headed down south that February, I had no idea that it would be a single word, not a hit like or home run, that would change the direction of my life.
I was extremely fortunate to be asked to participate in many “Big League” camp games that spring. An exciting time for any player, but especially for me. You see, I wasn’t even supposed to be there. Well, thats what most people thought at least. I was a recruited walk-on at Seton Hall University who was once told that “You’re probably never going to be a starter in this program” to going undrafted after my senior year. Yet here I was, walking in and out of Mckechnie Field playing some ball with “Big Leaguers”. Yeah, guys like All-Stars Kenny Lofton, Brian Giles and Aramis Ramirez. Not bad for a skinny kid from Jersey. Like any young player looking to make a name for themselves in any MLB organization, you work hard, perform at a high level, show up early, leave late, and whatever you do, you keep quiet and know your role. And thats exactly what I did, to a tee. Except I did it with a big smile on my face and a different hat and colorful pair of sneakers everyday. Damn, I forgot the part about not drawing attention to yourself! Those colorful sneakers…I knew it.
Before long, some of my new teammates and coaches started calling me “Dig-Me”. To be honest, I wasn’t really happy about this. I mean c’mon, I’m trying my best to make a good impression by working hard and following directions and now all of these accomplished players were calling me something other than my real name, Ray Navarrete. This couldn’t be good I thought. All of these guys must not like me, or they just couldn’t remember or know how to pronounce my last name. Turns out, I was wrong, thank god. They did remember my name and it turned out that I was liked by my fellow teammates and coaches. But it was the sneakers and hats that got them to start calling me “Dig-Me”. Now I got it, “Dig-Me”, like hey man, I “dig” your style kind of thing. So what do you when some of of best players in an MLB clubhouse and best prospects in an organization starting calling you a name? You embrace the hell out of it! And thats exactly what I did. “Dig-Me”, hmmmm…I thought. It has a really nice ring to it. And anyone who knows me well, knows that my wheels start spinning once I get an idea. And without even knowing it, the next chapter of my life had just begun.
I headed off to Double-A that spring with my confidence at an all-time high, with an awesome team and manager to play for, and this new nickname. And what a year it was. I got an opportunity to play in a beautiful stadium in a great town with incredible fans. And I was one step closer to my goal of reaching the Major Leagues. But what made it even more fun was how my new nickname played a role in this whole experience. “Dig-Me” soon became popular clubhouse banter, with players claiming to be “Dig-Me” and others taking a vote on whether or not they were, haha. Soon, those who were deemed to be “Dig-Me” became known as the “Dig-Me” Tribe. Haha, our very own tribe in Double-A. Before you knew it, with the help of 3 other of my teammates; Sean Burnett, Chris Duffy and Josh Bonifay, the “Dig-Me” became a phenomenon among fans who started claiming they were “Dig-Me” too. Little kids, grandparents and fans of all ages wanted to be a part of the tribe. Especially after the Altoona Mirror was kind enough to do a feature article on the four of us, telling the story about our performance, friendship and style. It truly was incredible.
Fast forward 10 years and you can imagine how much can happen. I completed a 14 year career in professional baseball with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston Astros, New York Mets and Long Island Ducks organizations. I gave the game I love every ounce of my effort and took my best swings at getting to the Major Leagues. Unfortunately, I CAME UP ONE
LEVEL SHORT, playing in Triple-A Norfolk in the Mets organization, as the highest step on the ladder. I HAVE NO REGRETS. No “what ifs”. Just gratitude I was one of the few guys out there who can say they got paid to play the greatest game in the world. But I’m also grateful for the platform the game gave me to share my “Dig-Me” story with fans and players across the country. My playing career became part of an incredible story that was starting to gain some traction. You see, along my playing journey, I decided to take my nickname and put it on a tee shirt. I mean, hell, if your gonna get called a name, might as well wear it, right? So thats what I did. But I made one small change. I dropped the “E” and made it “I”. Why would I do that you might be asking? Well, I thought that an “I” would be a reminder of phrases like “I CAN”, “I AM” I WILL”. And just like that, an “E” became and “I”, “Dig-Me” became Digmi and a nickname became a brand. At least that what I was thinking.
What was I thinking actually? Right in middle of playing professional baseball and trying to work my way up to the Major Leagues, I decided I wanted to start a lifestyle apparel brand? Like, the schedule and commitment of trying to play at the same level of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera (both of whom I got the honor of playing against in one of those MLB Spring Training Games) wasn’t challenging enough, attempting to start a new brand like Ralph Lauren seemed like a smart idea. Really Ray? Who did you think you were, Marc Ecko or Daymond John? I mean seriously, this couldn’t have been one of my brightest ideas. Or could it? A lifestyle brand with a catchy name, that promotes a positive message of chasing your dreams and showcasing your personality. Hmmmm. That sounds like something people might relate to. Doesn’t everyone have a dream, I thought. Doesn’t everyone have a personality worth showcasing and sharing with others? Yes, why yes they do. So how about all of those people dress those dreams and personalities in some cool gear? Yeah, now this is starting to make some sense. But wait…doesn’t Digmi need a face, an icon, a logo.
So here I am doing my thing in the middle of my playing career when I decided I wanted to start my own clothing brand. I had the name. I had the vision. But I needed a face. Something that people could recognize as Digmi. So I started thinking. Polo has the player on the horse, Lacoste has the crocodile, Ecko has the Rhino. Ohhhh…so it has to be an animal, right? Well at least thats what I thought. So I started thinking what animal would represent Digmi, and nothing clicked. Or maybe it was that all the animals were already taken hahaha. I mean, we weren’t about to use a dinosaur for our logo. Digmi the dinosaur, really?? And then it happened. The game that changed everything. The game that introduced me to the one guy I would end up spending more time with than anyone else in my life. “The Guy In The Tie”.
I forget the exact date. But it was sometime in 2004, while playing for the Altoona Curve, my second year in Double-A. We were in Bowie, Maryland and I was just coming off a pretty good game. I was feeling good about my chances as a player and excited about my new apparel brand that had a name but no face. Well, not for long. You see, I had one of those nights that a player likes to forget. The one where you can’t hit water if you fell out of a boat kind of nights. I played terrible the whole game and I struck out 3 or 4 times. I was just off. I looked bad, real bad. But hey, it happens. Anyone who has ever played baseball knows that you can feel like Ted Williams one night, and then feel like the one of kids in Bad News Bears the next. (If there is anyone who is out there reading this that doesn’t know who Ted Williams is or who the Bad News Bears are….Im not sure we can be friends haha). Well, after my last at-bat and another strike out, my hitting coach came over to console me and remind me to keep my head up. He pointed out that nights like these happen, and that the last pitcher I faced had nasty stuff, and sometimes you just have to “Tip Your Cap”. Wait, what? What did you just say? Did you just say “Tip Your Cap”?
Im a huge fan of the era of baseball when most fans wore suit and ties to games and would tip their caps to a great performance by a player. Or vice versa, when that player heard the applause from the crowd, they would acknowledge it with a tip of their cap. A gesture of gratitude and respect. Remember a time in our culture when a pretty woman would walk down the street and men would be polite and tip their caps? I can still see the images in my head of players tipping their caps and fans doing the same. So wait, a gesture acknowledging great performances and personalities? Yes, thats it. Not an animal or a crazy looking design. No, none of that. Digmi was going to tip its cap to everyone with the courage to chase their dreams and be themselves. And thats exactly what we did. With some thought, some sketches and the concept of a dapper dressed man wearing a tie and a top hat, “The Guy In The Tie” was born. Ladies and gentleman….Digmi had found its face.
The next decade flew by. From one organization to another, Digmi was being introduced to new people and players. I would travel from spring training complexes to minor league clubhouses selling our small collection of tee shirts and hats, trying my best to build a business while playing professional. As you can guess, that wasn’t the easiest thing to do. In fact, looking back, I’m not even sure how we got this far. Like a struggling player in middle of a tough season, I was making mistake after mistake. Everything from inventory to budgets and deadlines challenges made it seem like my dream of building a successful brand would be impossible. I quickly learned that you can’t build a brand while being a full-time baseball player who was more concerned with hitting home runs than designing and selling product. The priorities were out of order. I knew it. But I also knew that there was something special about this project. There was a reason why people were being drawn to our story. Maybe it was me. Maybe it was us. Maybe it was “The Guy In Tie”. Or maybe it was all of it. Whatever it was, I just knew it was something. So I doubled down and committed to riding this thing out all the way. There is was turning back.
So thats exactly what we did. We started hustling. I mean really hustling. From traveling to Major League Stadiums to meet players who were willing to wear and support our product, to hosting pop-up shops in small stores in the tri-state area, to setting up tables at colleges and sports complexes to gain some brand awareness and interest. We even had stealth sales transactions in diner parking lots on Long Island (ask SAME CITI – DIFFERENT SHEA author Jamie Quinn about that) You name it we tried. We’ve packed up more cars and trucks that I would like to remember. Anything to keep the name out there to keep the dream alive. Remember, no turning back right? Some of it was working. Our designs were being worn by numerous professional athletes and celebrities. They were being seen on major media outlets like ESPN and MTV. We even snuck “The Guy In The Tie’ on the national stage for Game 3 of 2015 World Series with a cool sign cheering on Noah Syndergaard and the New York Mets. People were noticing. It was working. At least I thought it was. But we needed to make some moves. We needed more credibility. A place to work. A place to call home. A place for our new fans and customers to visit and shop. And since we were still having trouble getting any retailers to take a shot on our brand because we were so new, I decided to open a store. Yeah you heard it right. Another one of my brilliant ideas. Really Ray? Adding a store to an already difficult project makes sense to you? Yes, yes it does. I had a plan and idea. And it nearly
cost us everything.
We opened Digmi Nation in
November of 2012. I had no choice. I know, I know, you always have a choice. I get it, I do. But no one was giving us a chance in their stores. I kept being told to come back when we got into our first retailer, or landed other accounts. What?? How can I get into my first store if no one wants to be the first to take us? So thats why I decided to open our own Digmi store. We didn’t have to impress or convince anyone to take our stuff. It was our place. So it would be all Digmi. Digmi everything. And it was beautiful. We build the space from scratch and it turned into everything we needed it to be. We held events, seasonal releases, and special interviews with celebrities. My crazy idea, although risky as hell, was doing what we needed it do. It was getting us attention. People were noticing. The right people were getting interested in our project. More people were believing. But I have to be honest. That store was the most stressful project I have ever been a part of. I risked almost everything I had on that project. Time, money, part of my sanity. Maybe all of my sanity actually. For all the great moments we had there, there were a lot of lonely nights. To many to mention. A lot of nights where I stayed behind to close up after another cool event, or after another productive meeting with my team. I’d shut the lights off sometimes and just sit there in the dark, wondering if I was biting off more than I can chew. We were so close to hitting it but yet so far away at the same time. Our popularity was growing, at least it seemed, but the sales weren’t. Popularity doesn’t always pay the bills. We hadn’t caught our break yet. How much longer could I keep this thing going. What started out as a story of “Professional Baseball Player Builds Clothing Brand” was turning into “Retired Baseball Player Strikes Out in Business”. All the time, all the years, all the hustle, and we hadn’t caught our break. “Damn…one level short again”
I’m not sure if this is a good thing or bad thing, but I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t know to quit or give up. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve said it a million times both in baseball and business. “Thats it! I quit. I don’t need this anymore”. Yeah, guilty as charged. I lead the league in saying it. But I’ve never had the courage to do it. Especially when I believe in something. Just like baseball, I promised myself I’d play until the end. It didn’t matter the salary or what league or what color uniform. I promised myself as a kid that I would play for as long as I could. And thats what I did. So how could I be any different with Digmi. Didn’t I love this too? Didn’t I promise myself that I would ride this out all the way? Yeah, I did. I’m man of my word. There is a quote that says ” The temptation to quit will be the greatest just before you are about to succeed” (at least I think I’ve seen that somewhere). So, quitting wasn’t an option. Onward we go!!
Its crazy what can happen when you hang on just a little longer. When you keep the lights on one more day, and the door open for another night. Someone might just walk in. Thats the one thing our Digmi team does so well. We never shut down. We never close up shop. We just keep moving forward. The store did what it had to do. Someone noticed. Well, actually a few people noticed who believed in our project and vision. It was exactly what we needed. A big aqcuistion at the trade-line kind of moment. Our Digmi team just got some new teammates. Boom, the team of passion and personality joins forces with a team of businessmen. Yes, the store. The place where we told our story gave people a visual of what this could be. It worked. It worked. At the 11th hour, it worked.
We got new life and the ability to take the project to a new level. More product offerings, creative projects including attending industry trade shows put Digmi in the middle of it all. Here we were. Digmi. A real brand where buyers from national retailers were getting an opportunity to see our collection and hear our story. It really is cool when a buyer stops by your booth to check out your collection and asks to hear your brand story and places an order. Kind of like hitting a home run. We took this momentum back home and with the help of some of our contacts, we were given the opportunity to meet with representatives from Bloomingdales in the spring of 2016. Yeah, you heard me right. Bloomingdales. I don’t get nervous that often, and usually feel confident in most situations. But this was different. This was our chance. My chance to make all that time and effort on this project worth it. This was the opportunity to make all the whispers I’ve heard along the way; “It’ll never work”, “It’s impossible”, “You’re wasting your time and money”, “Who do you think you are”, go away! C’mon Ray, get your mind right. Forget about all the other stuff going on in your life right now. Nothing else matters. This is the meeting you’ve been waiting over a decade for.
Just like I did for 14 years playing ball. I had a routine that helped me get my game face on. A cup of black coffee and some Jay. Yeah as in Jay-Z. Jay’s been my soundtrack since high school and even accidentally made an appearance at our first Digmi party at The 40/40 Club in NYC back in 2004 (I forgot to mention that earlier. Whoops, sorry about that). I put on Jay from the moment I woke up, went over our collection, packed up our samples, and threw on a tie (c’mon I had to) and fresh Digmi fitted. It was story time. I got to the city a little early as I had to meet one of my partners before walking in. I stood on the corner and just stared at the Bloomingdales building for a little bit. I had to take it all in. No matter what happened in the next few minutes, I was proud of what we had built. Digmi was about chasing dreams. And throughout all the highs and lows, the good and bad, thats what we did. We chased our dream. It didn’t matter what happened next. I was proud of who we were and what we stood for. Oh, yeah I forgot, I wore my first Digmi tee shirt we ever made underneath my button down. I had to. For good luck. But it also made me feel like every person who has been part of our journey was with me. Ok. I’m in the building. “Yes, hi, good morning! My name is Ray Digmi and they are expecting me”
I’d like to think that I told my best story that morning. I came with passion and presented our collection with heart and enthusiasm. I introduced “The Guy In The Tie” and detailed our vision for the brand. I had their attention. Or was it him. Or was it all the awesome images I showed them of people being Digmi. It didn’t matter because it was all the same. Me, him, you. I explained that WE ARE ALL DIGMI. And they believed me. Yeah, they believed me enough to tell me that they would be in touch with plans to bring Digmi into Bloomingdales in some capacity. Wait, what? Did you say yes to Digmi? Yes to the brand that couldn’t get their first account because no one wanted to be the first to take us on? I could’ve easily have done the moon walk in that office. But I had to keep my composure. You know, act like you’ve been there before. But I couldn’t help but smile. I smiled bigger than ever. Digmi just landed its first account. With Bloomingdales off all places.
That was spring of 2016 remember. With the great news came a lot of work to bring this to life. Design, development, production all had to be done according their company standards. Wow, what a learning curve and at times, a very challenging process for some rookies like us. But this is what we asked for. I remember having to get into the city to sign paperwork to make the purchase order official, and of course everything went wrong. Traffic almost made us last to the meeting that would put Digmi on the shelves at their 59th Street location. No way we could be late for this meeting. So you have to do what you have to, right?. Stuck in the middle of Manhattan, we hopped out of our cab and ran through the city streets, dodging cars, buses and bikes to get their on time (Ask “From Jeter To Judge” Author Carlos Ruiz about that). But like our story always goes, we got there. It wasn’t easy, and we had to dodge some traffic along the way, but we got there. Paperwork signed, sealed and delivered. Digmi was headed to Bloomingdales.
I’ll remember this day for the rest of my life. March 6, 2017. The day Digmi hit the shelves of 3 Bloomingdales stores (59th/Lexington in NYC; Roosevelt Field and Walt Whitman Malls on Long Island). What a feeling it was to hear the news that our brand was in a national retailer, And in the middle of the Big Apple. It’s actually really hard to put into words what I was feeling that whole day. Especially, when I got to see it with my own eyes. I fought my way into the city right before they closed at 8:30.pm. I went by myself. I had to. I knew what would happen when I got there. I ran through the doors and down the escalator to the Metro 59 section of the store. And there they were. 3 new Digmi designs. Digmi label. Digmi hangtag. Price $35. I stood there and stared. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t tear up. Like I said before, there were so many lonely times along this journey. So many difficult choices to make. So much lost along the way. But I promised myself I’d never give up. I promised my team I’d never give up. And here we were. In the middle of Bloomingdales. I Took some pictures and then grabbed a size large in all 3 styles. I walked up to the cash register and proudly paid full price plus tax for my very own Digmi tee shirts. It never felt so good to spend money on anything before in my life. I walked through the store and looked around. Polo, Lacoste, Psycho Bunny, Calvin Klein. Major brands. By no means am I comparing ourselves to them (yet) but I have to admit that it was super cool to be in the same room as them. Kind of reminded of being in that Major League clubhouse in spring training. And hey, you never know. Maybe we’ll be a brand who has space just like the others. You can only dream, right?
The ride back home was an emotional one. Im sure you can understand. I thought about how it all started, with the nickname and then the crazy idea to put it on a shirt. Then a hat. Then a sweatshirt. I thought about all the parties and projects that helped give Digmi life. I thought about all the great memories and friendships that were made because of the “The Guy In The Tie”. But then I thought about all those lonely days and nights when I was scared to death that I had gotten it wrong. That my idea wouldn’t work, and the vision I convinced so many people to believe in would fall short. I thought about all I had lost along the way. But thats part of it. I always knew that going into this thing. I guess thats why I’ve always be drawn to chasing it. I realized that Digmi was just like baseball. You work so hard, give up so much, knowing that there will be hard times. You go into it knowing that it will be a long road. But the chance to play in the Major Leagues is worth all the years fighting in the minors, right? And even if you come up one level short, you can look in the mirror and know you gave it everything you had. And for the entire Digmi team, after years of working, fighting to keep the dream alive, we had made it. At least for this one night, we made it. WE FINALLY WON!
When I got home that night, I sent out a group text to my team, thanking them all for their years of hard work and support. They were all pumped and excited about what the future had in store for us. One of my partners sent a separate text to me saying “Congrats Ray. All of your dreams are about to come true. You just got to the big leagues”. And that text really hit home for me. You see, it seemed like I spent my whole life playing the game I love, giving everything I had to play in the Major Leagues. And I’m proud of my career, I really am. But the bottom line is that I came up one level short. One level short of being a Major League player. People ask me all the time where do I get my drive to keep working on this project, and how I didn’t give up during all the real difficult times. Well, I guess heres the best way I can put it. I’ve been extremely fortunate to play baseball at every level in the world; Little League, Middle School, High School, Division 1 College, Rookie Ball, Short Season A, A, High A, Double-A, Triple-A and Major League Spring Training. I have a hit at everyone one of those levels. I always told myself that when I have my dream office, I will create a wall with a baseball in a case from each of those leagues, signifying my hit and time there. And then there will be this empty case. Yes, I will have an empty case on the bottom right. And that case will always be a reminder of the one level I didn’t get to. I’m convinced that if I did get there, I would have gotten a hit. I did everywhere I else I played. But I didn’t play there. I didn’t get that hit.And that hit will always be missing. That missing level, that missing hit is what drives me. I have this dream that with a lot of hard of work, that maybe Digmi can grow big enough and motivate tons of people to chase their dreams and embrace their personalities to where Major League Baseball notices who we are. And then maybe we can do something with them. Maybe we partner on charitable cause. Maybe they ask us to collaborate on a cool apparel design or even become the official lifestyle brand of the league. I don’t know, but it could happen right? Couldn’t you see our logo, “The Guy In The Tie” tipping his cap on a billboard of a MLB stadium? I definately could. And when that does happen, I’ll make a custom baseball with our logo on it, and I’ll put it in the case with where the missing hit stays. And everyday I look at it, I’ll know this; I may have come up a tad short of playing in the Major Leagues, but we built a brand that got there. Digmi playing in the Major Leagues…yeah, that’ll be good enough for me. For some strange reason, I have a feeling that Baseball took me to Bloomingdales, and getting into Bloomingdales just might take me back to baseball.
There is saying in baseball that goes something like this:
Getting to the big leagues is the easy part, staying there is the hard part. Well, I guess we can say we know the feeling. Hell, we got there. Now we just have to figure out a way to stay. But that story is for another time and another post! Here’s to living your dream and tipping your cap along the way!
LIVE your DREAMs, BE yourself! You never know just how far that can take you!
A quick little end note: If you notice, I say “WE” throughout this piece. I say we, because thats who we are. A lot of people get confused between Digmi and Ray Digmi. Yeah, I’m the guy who started this crazy project. Yes, it is my nickname that family, friends and now business associates call me. But Digmi is a WE thing. I couldn’t be luckier to have had the crew I have had over the years that have come to believe in this project with me and support it with their time and effort and most importantly their passion. Their belief and trust in me is the greatest responsibility I have. I owe them. Without them there is no dream, no vision, no hustle. They have put their heart an soul into it right there with me, and for that I will always be grateful. There is zero shot this story exists without them. They know who they are and they will always be my inspiration to make sure this project, one way or another, succeeds. This is YOUR BRAND! Thank you for walking this journey with me!
To my business partners, all the athletes and celebrities who ever gave us their time, and every single person who has been kind enough to support our project with a purchase….a very heartfelt THANK YOU!
To my family…thanks for dealing with this project for so long. I have a feeling its all going to be worth it. I love you guys!
To Bloomingdales….Thank You for giving a guy in tie a chance to hang in your stores. He is forever grateful!
Written with great pride and emotion:
– Digmi Founder/Chief Creative Officer
Ray Digmi Navarrete
CHECK OUT OUR FEATURE ON NEWS 12 LONG ISLAND FOLLOWING OUR DEBUT @ BLOOMINGDALES
Growing up on Staten Island, NY you are a fan of either the Yankees or Mets. No, seriously, I do not know anyone from Staten Island that is not either a Yankees or a Mets fan. For me, I grew up a diehard Yankees fan. I was always watching games on TV and even went to a few games each year. Those games were always exciting to watch, not only because they were winners, but the team had an incredible rivalry with the Red Sox. As a child watching the the “Core Four” (Jeter, Rivera, Posada, and Pettitte) was astounding. My love for the Yankees even motivated my family to name our dog “Jeter”.
Born in 1992, it was a perfect time to be a Yankees fan, especially having an older brother who loved sports. His love for baseball influenced my love for the Yankees. There was a lot of winning and a lot of role models to look up to at that time. Going to games was my favorite thing to do. Since the age of five, all I ever wanted to do was play baseball. My family and I would go to games and sit right behind home plate. I remember one game, we were so close to home plate that Paul O’Neill fouled a ball straight back and I thought it was going to hit me in the face. Luckily, they had a net right there because it would have hit me square in the face (which wouldn’t have ended well for me). The guy behind me was no lucky as but not so lucky, as I had a big soda in my hand and when the ball was coming my direction, I flinched and spilt my drink all over that him. (Whoops)
As I got a little older my brother and I would go to games via public transportation and sit in the bleachers. We would take the train to the ferry, ferry to Manhattan, then walk to the subway and take the 4 train to Yankee stadium. We would bring food with us, well because “Bleacher Creatures” were allowed to do that (haha). I remember it was the second to last game in the old Yankee stadium and I would run up to the bullpen every inning trying to get a ball. It was about to be the last inning and Mariano Rivera was warming up, so obviously there were a lot of people around watching him throw. I remember he threw his last warmup pitch and the music came on, “Enter Sandman” by Metallica. The crowd started to go crazy, as he’s leaving the bullpen and everyone is watching him, I see the bullpen catcher toss the ball up into the stands and while everyone is watching Mariano run out to the field. I’m the only one who sees this ball coming my way. Of course I catch it and immediately run to my brother speechless. I remember how happy I was. I just caught a ball that Mariano Rivera threw. I mean, what are the chances, right? My brother didn’t even believe me a first. It was one of the coolest moments I ever had being a Yankees fan.
In 2013, following my collegiate career at Seton Hall University, I was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 14th round. Flash forward four years through my journey through the minor leagues, and I find myself in the big leagues playing against the New York Yankees. They came to Minnesota to play a big series against us and I had my first two RBI’s against the Yankees and my first Gatorade shower after the game. It did not really hit me that we played the Yankees until we went to Yankee Stadium in September. Walking into the ballpark I got the chills. I grew up here, as a fan, and now I get to play against this team. First thing I did when I got into the clubhouse was walk out and see the field. I walked out to the outfield and just stared at the field. It was a dream come true. I went inside Monument Park and checked out all the legends that came through the organization and it was so special to see. The amount of family and friends that came out to support me made this moment even more unbelievable. It was a great feeling to see all of them there and cheering for me, even though most of my friends still wore Yankees gear.
We end up back in the Bronx for the one game playoff. It was cool playing them in the regular season but now it was business. I did not care that it was the New York Yankees. We wanted to win and they were trying to stop us. We got out to an early lead but gave it back in the next two innings. The way I describe that game is like a boxing match. Every pitch means so much and is so intense for four straight hours. It was an awesome atmosphere and a great experience. I got to go in the game midway through following an injury. It was crazy, I remember running out to center field like a kid in a candy store. I was playing the New York Yankees in the postseason.
I’m playing in a playoff game, is all I kept thinking about. People go their entire careers without making it to the playoffs. I remember getting a hit off Dave Robertson on a cutter that snuck through the “4 hole” and I remember how fast my chest was beating. Getting a hit in a playoff game was as cool as you can imagine. We ended up losing the game and the weirdest part for me was getting in my friend’s car and having him drive me home. We just lost a playoff game to the New York Yankees, my first season in the Major Leagues was over, and just like that, I was already home. No plane ride back to Minnesota, just an hour drive from the Bronx to Staten Island. I’m not going to lie, for the first time ever, it wasn’t cool that the Yankees won. It actually sucked losing to them. I grew up watching them beat so many teams so many times. But this time, it was different. It’s definitely different when you’re the one on the field and not a fan in the stands. Its crazy how quickly things can change when you put on a Major League uniform. You go from fan to foe real quick. Either way, the best part about baseball is there is always another day and another season to look forward to. And even though I’ll always be a kid form Staten Island who used to cheer, “Lets Go Yankees”, now I’m a guy who plays in Minnesota yelling “Lets Go Twins”
What exactly is a constant? Do we see it as a foundation for what we base our lives on? Is it a routine that we acclimate ourselves to through repetition? With so many definitions, one thing that remains true is that a constant will occur continuously through time. With everything else in life shifting, situations that alter decisions we make, something that remains constant in my mind are these words to remind me where I come from, who I am, and what will guide me through all obstacles:
“Never Lose Your Hustle.”
I spent four years as a part of the Seton Hall University Baseball Team. This was my identity. I lived, dreamt, and focused on baseball those four years, and learned to love the game. In addition to falling in love with the game, I learned to embrace the culture of Seton Hall Baseball. The history, the “Seton Hall Way” was learned, and through that I matured into who I am today. “Never Lose Your Hustle” has been a phrase that is more than preached, it’s practiced. You’ll find it posted all throughout the locker room, batting cages and offices of the coaching staff. Ask any SHU Baseball Alum, and they’ll have a story about what those words meant to them. Here’s the story of how “Never Lose Your Hustle” greatly influenced my life.
2017 had its fair share of twists and turns for me, as life was sure to change. Graduation, dreams of being drafted were getting closer, and my career would end, hopefully with a Big East championship. What I hoped and thought would happen, didn’t.
April 13th, 2017, Seton Hall vs. Xavier on FS1. The top of the 2nd inning, I felt discomfort in my right hand. As the game went on, this discomfort didn’t go away. By the end of the game, I could barely twist my wrist. I spent hours awake in the hotel, with my hand in and out of an ice bucket to try and relieve some of the swelling until eventually I had fallen asleep in the chair. The next day, I couldn’t play catch. My hand was swollen and I had to sit that game. Later that week, I found out that I had broken my hamate bone.
I had a decision to make. Having broken my hand on a swing during the second week of conference play, I didn’t want to abandon my team and get surgery. I wanted to do everything I could to finish out the season with the boys. I had to try to contribute as much as I could for the remainder of the season. On the flip side, this could really hurt my chances of ever playing professional baseball. Deciding to play through it was my decision.
I was out for what felt like the longest 17 days of my life. Trying different braces to relieve the stress off my hand, different tape wraps to make sure my wrist couldn’t move. The pain level had me believing I would never hit a ball over the fence again. I never gave up on trying to get back on that field.
April 30th, after 17 days figuring out how to make this work, I laced up the spikes, and DH against St Johns. Battling through pain, and discomfort, I would do anything for my teammates. Finishing out the rest of the year, playing 11 more games ended my career as a Seton Hall Pirate.
As time passed, the pain decreased and I was able to perform at a high level again. At the same time, the 2017 MLB First-Year Player Draft had happened and I had not been drafted. I ended up applying for a job outside of playing baseball. Not having a clue about what life after baseball had in store for me. Thinking my days being a ball player were over, I step foot in a familiar place in my hometown of New York.
The Baseball Center was a place I had been to countless times to workout as a ball player, but for the first time, I was going, looking to become a coach. I sat down and spoke with Michael Lombardi, Executive Director of The Baseball Center. After telling him about my injury, and explaining what seemed to be the end of my career, he gave me these words that I’ll never forget: “Play until you can’t anymore, because you can never get this time back.”
I thought to myself, “Maybe I can still play…” Sometimes you just need to be reminded that your time isn’t up yet, that you need to keep fighting for what you believe in.
Sure enough, later that night, I received a call from the Rockland Boulders, inviting me to an open tryout. Excited and inexperienced, I gathered all my strength to remind myself that those words, spoken so frequently the pass four years of my life, “Never Lose Your Hustle,” and do anything in my power to become a professional baseball player. I was selected out of a tryout of 72 guys, and was offered a contract and given the opportunity to further my career as a Rockland Boulder.
Through all of the ups and downs, keeping that hustle can land you in places you’d never thought possible.
If I had lost my hustle, if I had forgotten the words etched into my DNA, and if it weren’t for being reminded that I determine when my career is over, not my setbacks, I would have never had my first professional hit June 30th 2017, or my first home run, July 12th 2017.
Maybe the road you’re traveling down is a detour from the path you had set out planned to take, but just like a road trip, staying the course will still get you to your destination. Still on my journey, it is really cool to see how far I’ve come as a ball player since the night I broke my hand. But I truly believe that this detour in my life has made me a better person.
When that time comes, when you’re tested both physically and mentally; when that river you’ve been rowing down turns to a waterfall, you can plunge within the rapids, or you can fight upstream and swim yourself out of danger. We are given the choice, an opportunity, to react to something that is out of our control. The choice you make is what we have control over.
This is how “Never Lose Your Hustle” has changed this Seton Hall Baseball Alum’s life, to build on this opportunity, remembering the words that have paved the way for me to battle adversity, and consistently keep that one attribute a mainstay in our lives. The word that made it all possible, Hustle.
MINNEAPOLIS – I’ve been doing this a long time now. 16 years, all over the country, covering events big and small…I thought I’d seen it all. On the smaller end, I’ve worked minor league and college events with a few dozen people in the stands. At the bigger end of the spectrum? I’ve got the last five World Series, last six Stanley Cup Finals, the Daytona 500, a bunch of big UFC events and a lot of other big games under my belt since I started this career at the ripe old age of 20. It’s hard for me to find new experiences, it’s simply now working hard to get to repeat the old ones in a new setting. So, I’m not sure I was quite prepared for this week, when I flew into Minneapolis to work my second Super Bowl, and discovered that the media center was set up in a shopping mall. Of course, it isn’t just any mall, it’s the Mall of America, a 4.2 million square foot retail palace that takes the better part of a day to walk through. But still, seeing “radio row” set up in the middle of the food court was a bit jarring to say the least. For example, last year, the media center in Houston was in a convention center, and it made for a far more intimate setting even if there were still plenty of fans around. Here? Between the crush of people shopping at the mall who don’t care about football and the thousands of media who have descended into town for the event, it’s been difficult to make your away around sometimes. With that said, this has been an amazing week. Growing up back home in New Jersey, I never thought I’d go to a Super Bowl. When I started my career, I never thought I’d get to cover one. So, to now be working my second straight means a lot…in my opinion, with the possible exception of the Olympics, there’s nothing bigger you can do in this profession than work this game – and the week leading up to it, of course – and it’s all a nice reminder that all of the hard work it took to get here was worth it.
Celebrity sightings? I’ve heard about far more than I’ve actually seen myself. My Uber driver met Kevin Hart. I’ll have to settle for waiting outside the mall next to Cleveland Browns offensive lineman Joe Thomas. While there are plenty of events and parties that go with the game itself, I’ve kept myself focused on work; I covered the Minnesota Wild game Friday night and will work the Minnesota Timberwolves game on Saturday night. There’s certainly plenty of fun to be had – I made it a point to find the original “Jucy Lucy” burger while I was up here – but this isn’t the time of year where work should just stop.
Keeping your eyes on the prize is important for everyone involved. Of course, the grind continues for the two teams here, the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles made it to Minnesota in somewhat improbable fashion, recovering from the devastating loss of Carson Wentz to rally behind Nick Foles in getting to the big game; they defeated the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game, preventing the first ever “home game” at the Super Bowl…so much for a “purple reign,” although there are rumors of halftime performer Justin Timberlake having a Prince hologram next to him on stage. As for New England…well, of course they made it. Tom Brady led the Patriots to the AFC Championship Game for an incredible seventh straight season, and they came back to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars to advance to the Super Bowl for the 8th time in the “Brady Era” and tenth appearance overall. The Patriots have been here before, and it shows. From the demands of the week with media requests, tickets and the extra week of preparation to the actual game itself, New England showed a cool, calm and collected approach throughout the week. While much has been made of the Eagles defense, it’s hard to bet against TB12 and company this time of year, with their first-hand knowledge of what it takes to succeed. I expect a close game, but I’ll take Brady and the Patriots in a 27-17 win over the Eagles on Sunday.
Lets get right down to it. I was born on Long Island in 1986. The New York Mets owned the Big Apple at that time. I mean, how could I not fall in love with the boys from Queens, right? As a young kid, I watched highlights of that World Series Championship team over and over. It got to a point that I was able to recite most of the announcers in those video clips. Man, what a team. The Kid, Doc, Straw, Mex, Nails and HoJo.
I became a Mets fan primarily because I was born into it. My grandparents were fans, as were my parents. My Dad and grandfather went to a 1969 World Series game between the Baltimore Orioles and Mets, where they and thousands of other fans ran on the field after the game. The history of Mets players started to grow on me at a young age, especially my uniform number, #14. All I knew was the #14. My Dad wore it. I wore it. My younger brother wore it. The story goes, my Dad’s favorite player was Ron Swaboda, who wore #14 in the 60’s. In 1968, when former Brooklyn Dodgers legendary first baseman Gil Hodges, who wore #14 in his playing days, came to manage the lovable losers in Queens, Swaboda switched his jersey number to #4 and gave Gil #14. Hodges’ #14 is one of four Mets numbers retired by the organization, along with Manager Casey Stengel (#37), pitcher Tom Seaver (#41), and catcher Mike Piazza (#31).
Shea Stadium; the big ballpark in Queens. My home away from home. For a kid on Long Island there was nothing like walking up to Shea and hearing the song “Meet the Mets” blare throughout the old speaker system outside the entrances. Or walking up those long ramps to your seats before the games, and following a big win, walking down the ramps with a raucous pumped up crowd. I enjoyed listening to the 660 the FAN, WFAN to and from the games in the car. How could you not have spent many a game in the red Upper Level seats? We all did. It was cool when a “fake uncle” would let me know, “Hey after the third inning go down the first base line in the Field Level and find Tony the usher. He will hook you up!” And sure as hell, he did. Tons of games were watched down the first base line, just passed the infield. My fondest memories of Shea, however, is walking through the tunnel, whatever level you were at, and laying eyes on the greenest and most manicured grass I ever saw. It made my eyes light up. This is the Big Leagues. This is Shea Stadium.
I’ve been lucky enough to have been at some historic moments in the history of Shea. During the NLCS of 1999, my grandparents, dad, and myself sat in the Upper Deck, down the first base line, where you could see the Mets bullpen and beyond the outfield fence wall. That was the walk-off “Grand Slam Single” by Robin Ventura; the ball was a no-doubter soaring through the rain beyond the right center field fence. This walk-off was most notable because of catcher Todd Pratt running to the second base line and hoisting Ventura up in his arms before he could touch second base; hence the Grand Slam Single. That night I thought the Upper Deck was going to collapse. The Stadium was rocking so much. I had visions of looking at the third base line loge and seeing it bounce up and down. “Rock Like Shea” began to be used in the normal language of Mets fans.
Other than Piazza, players that I drifted to growing up were, Todd Hundley (a catcher before Piazza), Jay Payton, and David Wright. I always watched videos of Gary Carter in the ’80s, and then fast forward to 2009; he was my manager with the Long Island Ducks; surreal to listen and learn from a Hall of Fame catcher and World Series Champion. Also, spending four seasons with the Ducks from ’09-’12, Buddy Harrelson was and still is a coach and owner. For you Mets fans, a little trivia, Buddy is the only man in Mets history to be in uniform for both World Series Championships. He was the short stop of the 1969 Miracle Mets and the third base coach for the 1986 squad.
9/21/01. The first sporting event in New York since the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01. I was not at this game, although, I wish I was. To see New Yorkers unite together is always a thing of beauty. The Amazin’s were down 2-1 in the 8th of a flat, erie game to the division rival Braves, when Piazza walked up to face Queens native, Steve Karsay. Piazza drove a pitch to deep dead center, which bounced off the TV camera station, and Shea erupted with immense emotion of happiness; something New Yorker’s had not experienced for ten days prior. The Mets won the game and that historic home run in America’s Pastime, helped start the healing process for New Yorkers.
In July of 2008, Billy Joel played two concerts at Shea, donned, “The Last Play at Shea”. This was the final performances of the big blue ballpark. My family and I, along with a few friends went to the second of the two shows, the real last play. Billy had notable musicians help him close the Stadium down including Garth Brooks, Roger Daltrey, Steven Tyler, Tony Bennett, and Sir Paul McCartney. An unbelievable experience with a few combined passions of mine; family, Billy Joel, Mets baseball, and Shea Stadium.
Once the Mets were eliminated from playoff contention, on the final day of the regular season in 2008, and the crains were awaiting to start demolition of Shea for the new shiny Citi Field in the background, I felt a part of me was gone; part of my childhood, and part of my college days, as I played college ball at Queens College down the road from Shea. We went to so many games those years as well. A family friend was head of security at Shea and I randomly texted him that I was sitting in my car right in front of the Shea Stadium sign entrance. He told me to meet him behind the plate and took me in. The day before was their final out, and they were already tearing it down, but I got a few keepsakes; a few great photos of myself in the dugout, on the pitchers mound, and behind home plate.
I never was able to attend a Mets World Series game. In 2000, watched the fall classic from home. But in 2015, in part of hustling with Digmi, we were able to attend Game 3 at Citi Field; the game when David Wright hit a 3 run homer and 4 had RBIs. That game at Citi felt like the old days at Shea. You see, when Citi Field first opened, you would have had no idea that it was the home of the Mets. It had no murals of any past history of the organization and rarely any blue and orange. It looked like it was a neutral ballpark, not too intimate for Mets fans. But over the years, the Mets took notice to the fan base and their desire to bring tradition back. The outfield fence is now blue with orange trim, there are Mets greats plastered all over the walls of the concourse, the original Home Run Apple, is not hidden back behind the bullpens like the first year, and now is out in from of the Citi Field entrance; a great spot for fans to meet prior to the games and a perfect photo op.
I’ve been hustling with Digmi since 2009 and to watch the ever growing list of Big Leaguers wear the line is amazin’ to see. From Mets believers early on such as Jose Reyes, Dillon Gee, Eric Young, Jr., and Rene Rivera to Noah Syndergaard, Jacob DeGrom, Travis D’arnau, Curtis Grandson, and Yoenis Cespedes to name a few. The steam Digmi has received the past few years after the public seeing these Big Leaguers wearing the brand is still rolling and extremely fulfilling.
The 7 Line has helped invigorate Citi Field over the years. Not only has it been the pulse of the Mets fan base, but they have done an amazing job setting up 7Line Army outings at visiting ballparks across the Country. The Digmi team has taken a few of these outings in, a couple at Citi Field, and one on the road in Washington, D.C. The energy that this group of die-hards bring is off the charts. You can never go wrong with attending a Mets game at Citi Field in which the 7 Line is having an outing, posted up in centerfield, just to the right of the Home Run Apple.
Citi Field has its own identity now and Shea is still there in spirit; The Shea Bridge and the original Home Run Apple, the city skyline from Shea’s scoreboard, sure do make it feel like home. Year after year, the Flushing Faithful is coming out to Meet the Mets, along with the more winning baseball on the horizon, the times and teams may change, but it is becoming the Same Citi, Different Shea.
I’ve been a Philadelphia Phillies fan since I was a little kid. I blame my dad for that, haha. My dad grew up in Massapequa, Long Island, and at that time, he said that the house he lived in only got one channel that aired baseball games; and it only had Phillies games. He used to tell me that most of the seasons, the team really wasn’t that good, but there was something he liked about them. He said he always felt like the team gave it their all, and always respected the game and their fans. And just like that, the Phillies had its newest fan…Me.
From the beginning, I fell in love with the team colors, the iconic Liberty Bell and the entire of city of Philadelphia. It is such a special place. So much history to take in. I was always excited to make trips from my home on Long Island down to “The City of Brotherly Love” to catch a ball game with my pops. The Phillies teams that I grew up with were similar to ones my father had cheered on. They weren’t the most competitive, but seemed to give their all for 9 innings. And they did have some exciting players to watch. They had “J-Roll” Jimmy Rollins who went on to win an MVP award. “Pat the Bat” Pat Burrell, and a hot-shot new infielder named Chase Utley. Before you knew it, these three along with some other quality players had the Phillies making moves and winning some ball games. So much in fact, that they shocked the baseball world in 2007 when they caught the New York Mets and won the National League East title. After all these years, my team had arrived.
This was the beginning of my finest run as a Philadelphia Phillies fan. The years 2007 to 2012 were incredible. My “Phils” ruled the NL East. So many exciting games and moments that kept adding up. One of my favorite baseball moments ever was being at the last home game for the New York Mets at Shea Stadium in 2008. Jamie Moyer pitched and Tom Gordon closed out the game. Distant names for this generation of fans, but not to me. Those were my guys. I was only 13 years old at the time, but I remember it like it was yesterday.
The Phillies went on to win the World Series that season, and I probably wore a Phillies shirt to school everyday of 8th grade. As you can guess, it’s not easy being a Philadelphia Phillies fan in the the New City York area. Everyone else is a Yankees or Mets fans, and they always seemed to want to fight me because I wore my teams colors so proudly. I was heckled quite a bit back then, but I would do my best to laugh it off. Sometimes, I would enjoy the attention and embrace it by blowing kisses at them to get them more riled up. Maybe not the smartest thing to do to a bunch of New Yorkers, but hey, it made it all more fun.
Being a Phillies fan has made me appreciate the good teams when they come around. And as any sports fan knows, the good teams don’t come around that often, and when they do, you need to enjoy every minute of the ride. The same can be said about certain players. There are thousands who play America’s pastime, but only a handful of them make an unforgettable impact on us. One of those special players just happened to play for the team I have loved my entire childhood. His name was Roy, but most of his friends called him “Doc”.
Just like the rest of the baseball world, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of the former Major League star, Roy Halladay this past Tuesday. As a Phillies fan, it really hit home. One of my idols, a player who I cheered for and looked up to, was no longer with us. The first thing I did when I got home after hearing the tragic news was go into a box where I keep my old jerseys. There it was, my #34 Roy Halladay Philadelphia Phillies jersey. Those that know me well know that I don’t buy many jerseys. I only have a few of them. And the few that I have are of guys that I have a great deal of pride representing; guys like Pete Rose, Roberto Clemente, Bryce Harper, Chase Utley and of course, the late Roy Halladay. The other item I grabbed was a copy of the New York Post from the day after Halladay threw his post season no-hitter. Remember that? What a game!
Roy Halladay only spent 4 seasons with my favorite team but instantly became an idol and hero of mine. When my friends and I would play pick-up baseball down at the park, my nick-name would always be “Doc Hils” in honor of my admiration for “Doc Halladay”. Many of my friends reached out to me this week to send their condolences knowing just how much Roy meant to me.
Roy Halladay was the definition of a professional. One of my other favorite players, Chase Utley, who doesn’t say much to the media, put out a statement earlier this week about “Doc”. Chase explained how he arrived at spring training early one day and saw Roy, who dripping in sweat and eating breakfast. Chase asked him if it had rained outside and Roy told him no, that he just got done with his workout before grabbing a bite. That was Roy. An unmatched work ethic respected by his teammates and opponents alike.
I was honored to root for Roy during his final 4 seasons of his career pitching in Philadelphia. During his career, Halladay won 203 games and along with 67 complete games. Thats right, 67 complete games. In an era where we are lucky to see the starting pitcher get through 5 innings, this guy was committed to finishing his job. He was a player who honed his craft day in and day out. Someone who many of his colleagues looked up to. I know I did.
Roy Halladay got his nickname from “Doc” Holliday, the famous wild west gunslinger. The nick name seemed appropriate as Halladay would stand on the rubber, take in his sign, draw his weapon (his arm) and fire strikes across the plate. Some could say that “Doc” was appropriate because of his precision of his pitches, similar to that of doctors diagnosis. Accurate and to the point. That was my idol “Doc” Halladay. Whether fans were thinking of the gunslinger or the doctor, Halladay was admired by all. When he took the mound, all eyes were on Roy. A current Major League player was quoted this week saying “Roy Halladay was your favorite player’s favorite player”.
Roy Halladay had that blue collar mentality of lets go to work and not leave until the job was done. He was a rarity. An exception to the rule. A player who was loved and respected by fans and foes. A player who may one day be enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. But beyond his talents on the mound, Roy was a great man, husband and father. He was the kind of man that fans like me could look up to.
I never did get a chance to meet Roy. I sure would’ve loved that. I’ve asked myself a few times what exactly I might have said to him if I did get that chance. Would I say something about his no-hitter in the playoffs? Would I tell him that I proudly wear his jersey? Or maybe that he was one of my heroes? I’m not really sure. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized, if I did get that chance, I would only have one thing to say…
“Thanks Doc…for everything!”
– Walt Hilsenbeck
Digmi Contributing Author
More about the author: Walt Hilsenbeck is die hard baseball fan who attends more than 75 professional games each season. Walt is the founder of HilsFilms, a YouTube channel that features candid player interviews and game content. Walt’s material has been featured on media platforms such as MLB Network and Univision.